NBC 5 Investigates

Thousands of sexual assault cases die each year inside Chicago's justice system

NBC 5 Investigates found just 1.5 percent of sexual assaults in Chicago end with sex crime convictions with imprisonment

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NBC 5 Investigates conducted a six-month investigation that found sexual assault charges were never filed or were dropped in favor of non-sex charges time and time again. Find our extensive "Dismissed" series here.

Trigger warning: the following investigative reports discuss issues of sexual violence.

After it was over, she had a rape kit collected but waited to tell the police.

Loved ones and friends encouraged her to come forward.

“I was terrified of the possibility that he could do this to someone else,” she said. “I had no idea that he had done this before.”

“Jane” – which is not her real name – told NBC 5 Investigates she met a guy on Tinder at the beginning of the pandemic.

They had a couple of beers on his couch and watched a movie. She rejected his initial advances, according to a police report. Their encounter ended, court records showed, in sexual assault.

What “Jane” didn’t know at the time of her sexual assault – the man, Christian Valcich, was already out on bail facing four counts of aggravated sexual assault from a separate 2019 criminal case in Chicago.

“I was floored when I learned that,” Jane told NBC 5 Investigates.

At the time of Jane’s sexual assault in May of 2020, court records showed Valcich had already been barred by the court from using dating apps while his 2019 case was pending.

According to the police report, the victim alleged she too met Valcich on Tinder and was sexually assaulted and choked to the point she almost lost consciousness.

But once in court, the cases had two very different outcomes.

In the 2019 case, Valcich’s four sexual assault charges were dismissed and amended down to a single count of aggravated battery. As of our reporting deadline, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office had not said why the case was amended down.

“Jane’s” case too saw the aggravated sexual assault charges dropped.

Valcich pleaded guilty to criminal sexual abuse – a felony conviction that requires him to register as a sex offender. He was sentenced to 24 months of probation.

Reached by phone, Valcich told NBC 5 Investigates he would consider doing an interview and would call back. He did not. And he has not responded to two additional voicemails seeking comment.

NBC 5 Investigates found he is living in Massachusetts and is registered as a sex offender there.

His criminal cases represent what NBC 5 Investigates found was a common occurrence with reported sexual assaults in Chicago – they rarely lead to an arrest and almost never result in a sex crime conviction with prison time.

A six-month investigation by NBC 5 Investigates found that of more than 21,000 alleged sex crimes reported to Chicago Police between 2018 and 2023, police made arrests in fewer than 1,600 reports – that’s just 7 percent.

From there, NBC 5 Investigates discovered hundreds of sexual assault cases died on the vine between the time they were reported to police and were adjudicated in court:

  1. Records show 317 cases were dropped before they ever hit the courtroom.
  2. 276 cases were dismissed after the criminal cases were filed in court.
  3. Another 216 cases led to the accused being convicted of something other than a sex crime – including non-sex crime charges like aggravated battery.

In nearly half the convictions we reviewed – or 49 percent – the suspect’s convictions did not require them to register as a sex offender.

All told – in a six-year period – just 1.5 percent of reported sexual assaults and other sex crimes in Chicago resulted in a sex crime conviction with prison time.

“This is a problem across the nation. It’s called case attrition,” said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Northwestern University law professor, who wrote a book about the difficulties for sexual assault victims face when seeking justice.

In an interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Tuerkheimer, a former prosecutor in New York City, said a host of factors plays into why rape cases fail in court - including how thoroughly the cases are investigated and prosecuted.

“And basically it is cases dropping out at every stage, dropping out in large part because people aren’t doing their jobs well, right?" she said.

NBC 5 Investigates interviewed Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx about our findings.

When asked if there were things Foxx wished her office had done better in prosecuting these cases, she said, “You know… we have a vertical prosecution method where our prosecutors are on the case from beginning to end to know their cases. They know the strengths as they are … the deficiencies that may occur and the credibility of our witnesses and walking them through. And so it’s difficult to second guess, because again, these are human endeavors – but we’re always striving to do better.”

Foxx said sexual assault cases can often be difficult to prosecute for a variety of reasons: from lack of witnesses to prosecutors weighing evidence before deciding if they can prove a sexual assault occurred beyond a reasonable doubt.

“That doesn’t surprise me at all. I think research and data tells us that sex crimes are one of the most underreported of all crimes,” Foxx said. “Often times, these are cases where there are no witnesses, that you have a survivor and the accused. There are occasions where you may have DNA evidence. Sometimes you don’t. It is often one person’s word against another.”

The Cook County State’s Attorney's Office provided NBC 5 Investigates with its own data – which differed from our findings in how the convictions were categorized – but still showed a majority of sex crimes being amended down to other charges.

According to Foxx’s office, since she took office in 2016, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office reviewed and made a charging decision for 6,445 sex crimes cases in Cook County. Of those, 3,573 cases were prosecuted.

When it comes to convictions on sex crimes, Foxx’s office said 39 percent of the cases are convicted on the top charges filed; 65 percent get convicted on a charge “equal in class” of the top charge.

NBC 5 Investigates’ own analysis found most cases we reviewed resulted with the initial charge being amended.

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